Edinburgh’s sobering defeat away to Zebre may have served to hammer the final nail into their hopes of qualifying for next season’s Champions Cup, but according to Tim Visser, the writing had been on the cards for some time.
Zebre 26-13 Edinburgh
Scorers: Zebre – Tries: Venditti, Cristiano, Ratuvou. Con: Orquera. Pens: Orquera, Garcia 2. Edinburgh – Try: Scott. Con: Cuthbert. Pens: Bezuidenhout (2).
Alan Solomons’ men came to Italy chasing a win to keep alive their faint hopes of overtaking the Scarlets one position above them, but left utterly chastened, the ignominy of becoming the first Scottish side ever to fall to the Parma-based team an unwanted souvenir.
For Visser, it was a day of mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was his 100th appearance for the club, and his first start since breaking his ankle against Treviso last year. It was he who led his team on to the pitch, and indeed it was he who set up Matt Scott for Edinburgh’s only try. Any feelings of satisfaction, however, were well and truly diluted by the realisation that Edinburgh will not sit at Europe’s head table next season.
“It’s looking like we’re going to be in the Challenge Cup now,” said the 26-year-old. “Of course it’s a good competition with a lot of good teams, but it’s not where we want to be. To be completely honest, we’ve had this coming for a couple of years. We haven’t been performing consistently, and we haven’t been finishing in the top six.
“It kind of makes sense from where I’m standing. To get into the top competitions, you have to perform in your domestic league, and we haven’t. This is now our outcome. In terms of rebuilding the club, maybe it’s not the worst thing in the world, to step back and build up again from a lower level. But from the perspective of all our players, the European Challenge Cup is not where we want to be. I just think that it’s a real shame.”
That Visser got a full 80 minutes under his belt was probably the only positive to come from another bleak day on the road for Edinburgh, who were outscored three tries to one by the Italian minnows.
At the top of the snag list was a misfiring lineout, a retreating scrum, and all the inherent problems which derive from not being able to secure possession. Injuries, certainly, played a major part.
The early withdrawal of Ollie Atkins with a knee injury, especially, left their lineout in a state of disarray, a problem which was compounded in the second half when Roddy Grant followed him down the tunnel with an ankle injury.
The net result saw centre Andries Strauss finish the game at openside flanker, which rather told its own story.
“Losing key players in key positions following a week’s worth of training in that position has a big knock-on effect,” added Visser. “In this respect, it had the effect of us not getting enough possession. If you are not getting ball at source, there’s not much you can do as an attacking unit.”
His coach, charged with the unenviable task of gleaning positives from the wreckage, pointed towards the character his side showed to keep themselves in the game when all systems appeared to be in meltdown mode. Solomons reserved special praise for the twin brothers Ben and Alex Toolis, who made their debuts in extremely difficult circumstances.
“Both Ben and Alex were very brave but they are young Academy players, who have just come from Australia and with a strong volleyball background, rather than a heavy rugby background,” said the South African.
“They haven’t been part of the set-up, and they are both playing in key positions. It was difficult for them but I think they can be happy with their contribution.
“The positive was that, from a team perspective, we stuck to our task in the second half. We showed a lot of determination and were still in the game with ten minutes remaining.”
If Solomons’ appraisal veered on the side of glass-half-full, however, it wasn’t reciprocated by Visser, who had no appetite for crumbs. “It’s true that the game was still in the balance with ten minutes to go, but even then, that’s not a position that we should be finding ourselves in over here,” he said. “Showing grit and effort should be a given at this level. Everyone does that. The problem lay more with our tactics and the fact that we weren’t getting any ball.
“Overall, it was just a very disappointing day for us.”
Zebre: D Odiete; L Sarto, T Iannone (G Garcia 62), G Garcia (K Ratuvou 55), G Venditti; L Orquera, B Leonard; M Aguero, D Giazzon (T D’Apice 68), D Chistolini (D Ryan 60); Q Geldenhuys (capt), G Biagi; F Cristiano (F Ferrarini 68), A Van Schalkwyk, S Vunisa.
Edinburgh: J Cuthbert; T Brown, M Scott, A Strauss, T Visser; C Bezuidenhout (H Leonard 41), S Kennedy (G Hart 41); W Blaauw, R Ford (J Hilterband 54), W Nel; B Toolis (A Toolis 54), O Atkins (C Du Preez 15); M Coman (capt), R Grant (S Beard 57), D Denton.